Scent of interactive coin lures H’wood to CES

IT’S A WRAP: As the curtain came down Sunday on the 1994 Consumer Electronics Show, one thing remained clear: Hollywood’s involvement and interest in multimedia and interactivity, now at a fever pitch, is not about to subside. Perhaps 3DO president and CEO Trip Hawkins put it best when he told an assembled throng of convention-goers, “That giant sucking sound you hear is all the Hollywood talent going to Silicon Valley.” While Hawkins may borrow soundbites from Ross Perot, he did get his point across and the audience is obviously listening.

It was quite a sight watching phalanxes of agents from CAA, ICM, William Morris and others snake through the various interactive product booths looking for possible new sources of revenue. Meanwhile, studio execs and filmmakers, hoping to figure out how to get in on all the action, mingled with game designers.

“The CES Show has become a meeting ground for a lot of the creative people who are involved in developing these new kinds of content,” said Hawkins, whose company is behind the 3DO Interactive Player. That’s the much-ballyhooed machine attempting to push the multimedia envelope with state-of-the-art graphics and sound capabilities, combining the best of videogame and CD-ROM players.

“I’m not quite sure how this is all going to shake out,” added an enthusiastic studio executive, looking slightly bleary-eyed, a victim of too much game-playing. “I just want to make sure I’m on top of all this synergy.”

MORE ON 3DO: While 3DO’s Hawkins used the CES Show to extol the virtues of the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer and how well it’s selling, surprisingly, no one paid much attention to his announcement that the company is developing an add-in card for personal computers. This will have the 3DO technology built in, allowing the millions of PC users around the world to hop on the fast-moving 3DO train, without shelling out for a 3DO machine.

“The thinking about the card for the PC is that there are a lot of customers who have a PC and who have spent a lot of money on it and who want to continue with that investment,” Hawkins said. “This will allow PC users to use the same peripherals they’ve already invested in and be able to run 3DO software on that machine. It would be less expensive than buying a stand-alone 3DO machine.”

This development could cause some rumblings in the halls of Panasonic, Sanyo and AT&T, all of whom will be marketing their own brand of 3DO machines and won’t be thrilled with a competing, less-expensive PC version.

“If the 3DO technology is going to be available for the PC, that means there will be a lot of people who won’t buy a 3DO machine,” grumbled one executive, a buyer from one of the country’s largest discount audio/video chains. “We’ll now have to get into the PC business.”

Hawkins, who sees the 3DO as the next big wave of multimedia and interactive entertainment, says the cost of the PC board will be under $ 500 and will ship by the end of the year.

“One of the reasons I know it’s a great idea is that Bill Gates is really unhappy about it,” Hawkins says, referring to the Microsoft kingpin, who has his own ideas about interactivity and multimedia. “The 3DO operating system is not the Microsoft operating system and he’s worried.”

SPEAKING OF SYNERGY: Viacom New Media showed off its latest entry into the multimedia world, “Rocko’s Modern Life: Spunky’s Dangerous Day,” based on the successful Nicktoon and a collaboration between Viacom New Media, Nickelodeon and the show’s creator, Joe Murray.

And for those who just can’t get enough of “Beavis and Butt-head,” Viacom also showed an early version of its “B and B” videogame that will be released next fall on the Nintendo and Sega platforms. If the early version, complete with digitized voices offering such “Beavis and Butt-head” platitudes as “This sucks” and “This is cool,” is any indication, it should be a huge hit with the duo’s fans. We can’t wait.

At this year’s CES, no area of the business seemed to escape the shadow of interactivity and multimedia. Even the area set up at the Sahara Hotel devoted to the world of adult video — usually at the back of the bus when it comes to new technology — was riding the new wave, boasting the newest kink in adult fare: interactive porn, which will allow viewers to direct the on-screen action. No word yet on whether one will need a condom to play along.

CD-ROM PIRACY: While one of the most talked-about topics at CES was the impending videogame rating system, an even hotter subject was the advent of full-motion, full-screen movies on CD-ROMs. As with videocassettes and laserdiscs, video CD-ROMs are easy to copy onto tape.

Many Silicon Valley and Hollywood observers are quick to point out that the potential video CD-ROM piracy problem could be even bigger than is currently perceived. With more than 4 million CD-ROM players already in home computers, not to mention specialized interactive video CD machines like those offered by 3 DO and Philips, a burgeoning demand for video CD-ROMs is on the horizon — as is the potential for piracy, because images from a video CD-ROM can be copied to videotape.

Video Protection Labs, which has made a name for itself in the last few months with its broadcast and laserdisc anti-piracy technology, looks to be holding a possible solution to the problem, by applying their technology to video CD-ROMs.

While prior anti-piracy technologies have been offered to the video CD-ROM industry, they have required special hardware manufactured into each of the CD-ROM players. Video Protection claims that their “non-invasive” technology will be much more practical to implement, requiring no modification to consumer equipment, using an encoding process that is applied during transfer of the movie from film or tape to CD. It will allow viewers to watch the CDs without any degradation of video quality, but videotape copies made will be unwatchable.

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